Auburn does “everything you have to do to win on the road,” leaves MSU seeking answers.
By Brad Locke
STARKVILLE – Phil Turner is as loquacious as they come, but even he was struggling to explain Mississippi State’s 76-58 loss to Auburn on Saturday.
“I’m never too much at a loss for words,” the sophomore guard said, “but I don’t know what to say, what to tell you.”
The Bulldogs as a whole were mystified as to what transpired in front of 7,134 disgruntled fans at Humphrey Coliseum. As far as the tangibles, it was Auburn’s balanced scoring effort and State’s horrid shooting that told the story on the stat sheet.
Auburn shot 49.1 percent from the floor and 52.9 percent (9 of 17) from deep. The Bulldogs shot 35.1 percent from the floor and 30.0 percent from downtown. They were just 2 of 11 from deep in the first half, when Auburn staked itself to a 38-21 lead.
But there was more to it than that.
“Auburn played with more passion, more toughness, more togetherness,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “Everything you have to do to win on the road, I thought Auburn had it. I didn’t think we had it, for whatever reason.”
MSU (17-12, 7-7 SEC) has lost three straight and five of its last six, and the latest setback dropped the Bulldogs to third place in the Western Division. Auburn (19-10, 8-6) has a firm hold on second place, and if they can hold on to it, the Tigers will get a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, which starts March 12 in Tampa, Fla.
Auburn has won six of its last seven and won in Starkville for the first time since 2000. Coach Jeff Lebo told his team after the game, “You’ve played your way into a situation where now every game’s meaningful.”
Frankie Sullivan led the visitors with 14 points. Rasheem Barrett and Lucas Hargrove had 12 each, and Brendon Knox added 10.
Last time these teams met, on Feb. 14 in Auburn, Tay Waller went off for a career-high 32 points – hitting 8 of 12 from 3-point range – for the Tigers. He had only seven points Saturday, but Auburn has evolved into a balanced team.
It got 36 points from its bench, and seven players logged at least 25 minutes.
“That’s why we’re winning right now, because everybody knows their role,” said Hargrove, a former starter turned sixth man.
After taking an early 7-2 lead, MSU was stone cold from the field in the first half – going scoreless for seven minutes and 18 seconds – and never could get hot enough in the second to stage any sort of rally.
A 10-0 run early right after halftime cut a 19-point Auburn lead down to nine, at 40-31, but the Tigers quickly recovered and pushed the lead to 54-37. The margin eventually reached 20 points.
“We never had that change of emotion in that game to really change the outcome of that game in the second half,” Stansbury said.
MSU committed 18 turn-overs to Auburn’s 10, and the Tigers scored 18 points off the miscues. Five of those turnovers were committed by freshman point guard Dee Bost, who scored 12 points to go with three assists.
Turner also scored 12, and Barry Stewart added 11.
It was a long day for Stewart, who arrived at Humphrey Coliseum about 45 minutes before tipoff. He’d been in Shelbyville, Tenn., at his grandmother’s funeral.
He said he was focused for the game and doesn’t understand why the Bulldogs struggled so mightily.
“I’ve got no answer for that,” he said. “At this point in the season, you’ve got to have some urgency about you.”
n Box score, Page 2C